By Domanique Crawford
With NASA’s recent discovery of seven earth-sized planets orbiting a small star, who’s to say extraterrestrials don’t exist? The cosmic possibilities may be endless.
“It’s definitely possible,” said HSU history major Cameron McDermid. “It’s not going to be like the way we think of extraterrestrial life though. If anything they will probably be like little tiny microbes growing around.”
The discovery of the new solar system has astronomers hoping to discover the existence of extraterrestrials. According to a study published in the Journal Nature, “one aim of modern astronomy is to detect temperate, Earth-like exoplanets that are well suited for atmospheric characterization.” Much of modern-day space travel involves a search for planets capable of sustaining life.
A Belgium research team led by Michaël Gillon, astronomer from the University of Liège in Belgium, found the first three planets of the solar system using the transit method. To perform this method, the research team used the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope, also called Trappist, to observe the star light around a dwarf star called Trappist-1. Researchers find planets by watching the starlight for periodic blocks of shadow, indicating a planet is orbiting the star. After the discovery of the first three planets, the last four were discovered using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
The study reports that Trappist-1 is about 40 light-years away. Trappist-1 is classified as an ultra-cool star. Not only is the star small, but it is low energy and low temperature. Some astronomers question whether or not the star is big enough to sustain the orbiting planets. Trappist-1 is only 8 percent of the mass of the sun. According to HSU astronomy professor Paola Rodriguez Hidalgo, if the planets are close to the star, the star should still generate enough energy to support the surrounding planets.
“They are so close in some cases that when a year for us is 365 days that it takes the earth to go around the sun, in their case it is 20 days,” Hidalgo said.
The proximities to the dwarf star, the rocky terrains and warm temperatures of three of the earth-like planets, classified as Trappist-le, f, and g-, make them the most likely to sustain life. These three planets also fall into the habitable zone, meaning the area of a planet’s orbit that is close enough to its star to sustain liquid water.